Lottery Advertising Mistakes


The casting of lots to determine fortunes and distribute property has a long history, as well as an equally long record of abuse and misuse. Modern public lotteries, regulated by government agencies and marketed through advertising, typically raise funds for public services (such as school construction) or for the poor. They also offer games of chance, such as scratch-off tickets. Many of these games, in addition to generating a substantial amount of revenue for the state, have become addictive and problematic for players.

Lottery advertising necessarily focuses on persuading target groups to spend their money on the lottery, and it does so using a number of tactics that critics say are misleading or deceptive: overstating jackpot sizes; exaggerating the odds of winning; inflating the value of prizes won (in the U.S., for example, winners choose between an annuity payment and a lump sum; and withholding taxes dramatically erode the final payout); and so forth. Critics also point out that when a lottery is earmarked to benefit a specific program, such as public education, it simply allows the legislature to reduce the appropriations for that purpose from the general fund and use those proceeds to increase its share of gambling revenues.

Although lottery play varies by socio-economic status and demographic factors, most players come from middle-income neighborhoods. However, even these relatively affluent consumers contribute billions of dollars to government receipts they could be saving for other purposes, such as retirement or college tuition.